Cougar Hoops: Fits, Brackets, Props

THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL recruiting coordinator for says Tony Bennett's new class of talent isn't going to turn any heads among the chattering crowds, but believes another measurement of the foursome bodes well for Ol' Wazzu.

"Last year was the big splash for the Cougars and I think this class neatly fills in some spaces and adds depth to the program," says Dave Telep.

"It's not a class that will be nationally touted but there are certain programs where you care less about the rankings and more about the fit.

"When guys like Sendek and Beilein recruit a kid, you look at them extra hard because of the respect you have for them as evaluators and custodians of their program. That's exactly how one would view Tony Bennett. He's the coach, he knows his particular needs best. We rate the talent, he builds the program. Trust him."

Telep calls 6-3 point guard Xavier Thames of Elk Grove, Calif., "the headliner," noting, "He's going to give Tony size and direction at the point."

Thames figures to step into an immediate role when he arrives next year. Taylor Rochestie is graduating after this season and his two understudies, freshmen Marcus Capers and Michael Harthun, are considered more natural two guards than points.

Thames is rated the No. 19 prep point prospect in the nation. He averaged 23.7 points, 4.3 assists and 2 steals per game last season. He chose WSU over Iowa State.

WHEN THE OL' FOOTBALL club is struggling, a middle-aged man's fancy in November turns to bracketology. Yep, a word that didn't even exist a decade ago – indeed, a word that really shouldn't be uttered at all until February – is suddenly top of mind. And why not? Wazzu is, after all, a basketball school. Plus, ESPN and The Sporting News are already tossing up their forecasts for March's field of 65.

So we'll start with the good news. Joe Lunardi, ESPN's tourney guru and the guy who invented the B-word, predicts that your fightin' Cougs will make the Big Dance for a third straight season. He has WSU slotted for a No. 12 seed and a first-round battle in Boise against Marquette. Lunardi puts four other Pac-10 teams in the field: UCLA (a No. 1 seed), USC, Arizona State and Arizona.

The Sporting News also predicts five Pac-10 teams making the field, but the Cougars aren't among them, losing the spot to Washington.

Gonzaga gets love all around, earning a No. 2 seed from Lunardi and a No. 1 seed from The Sporting News. Both Lunardi and TSN also see the Zags going to the Final Four.

In an on-line Q&A, Lunardi was asked how he could leave out Washington from his field of 65 while including Arizona and WSU. Lunardi responded, "Every year I keep hearing about how great Washington is and the last two they can't get above .500 in their own league. So call me skeptical."

Rochestie earned some national kudos this week from ESPN's Andy Katz. Rochestie nabbed a spot on Katz' list of 10 hidden gems for this season. Says he: "Rochestie was the heart of the Cougars on many an occasion last season. While Kyle Weaver, Derrick Low and Robbie Cowgill got much of the attention, Rochestie delivered in many ways that weren't reflected in the box score. He has the chance to produce significant numbers."

TALK ABOUT COCKY. UConn junior center Hasheem Thabeet is on the over of ESPN The Magazine this week trash talking two pre-season All-Americans: Notre Dame's Luke Harangody ("not tough") and North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough ("I don't see nothing").

I could see how Aron Baynes might credibly get away with those remarks. But not Thabeet.

Speaking of Notre Dame, there was an interesting article about the Irish in the South Bend Tribune last month. The 61-41 hurt the Cougs put on ND in the second round of the NCAA tourney last March apparently served as a wake up call for the Golden Domers.

"We played against men," ND coach Mike Brey said. "They kind of chewed us up and spit us out." Added senior swingman Zach Hillesland: "Their focus and execution was so much better than ours. They got on us so quickly that before you knew it we were in such a hole."

The Irish have been working on defense, getting after loose balls, etc. Concludes the author: "In many ways, Notre Dame is this year's Washington State. Steady guard Kyle McAlarney is Derrick Low. The versatile Hillesland is Kyle Weaver. Big man Luke Zeller? Robby Cowgill. The Irish also have a likely preseason All-American in Harangody. Like Washington State last season, Notre Dame is a feel-good pick to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament."

FSN ANNOUNCED THIS WEEK that it will broadcast 15 Cougar basketball games this season. Unfortunately, this weekend's opener – Saturday against Mississippi Valley State – isn't one of them. The first game on FSN will be Dec. 2 when the Cougs play Idaho State. Prior to that, the Nov. 28 and 29 Legends Classic Tournament games are slated for broadcast on HDNet. Click here for the complete list of FSN games.

ON THE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL front, word out of Pullman from those who witnessed the Cougs' two exhibition games and grabbed a glimpse at some practices is that three of June Daugherty's freshmen – April Cook, Jazmine Perkins and Jessica Oestreicher – have WNBA type of potential.

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